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Avila Perspective, Chap. 153: Manny at the Olympic and More

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  • Avila Perspective, Chap. 153: Manny at the Olympic and More

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    By David A. Avila

    Close the book. And it’s a thick one on Filipino superstar Manny “Pacman” Pacquiao.

    When Pacquiao first arrived in the late 90s it wasn’t with great fanfare, but more like a whispered secret passing on the streets of Los Angeles. “Check out that little Filipino kid with speed and power at Freddie Roach’s gym.”

    Back in those days Roach had several really good pros working in his second story gym on the corner of Vine and Santa Monica Blvd. in Hollywood. James “Lights Out” Toney was the main star and Roach’s main fighter. I frequented that gym mainly to check on Toney and a few others.

    I’ll never forget that day Roach eagerly approached me with Eddie Cantor eyes eager to tell me about this new kid Pacquiao. His knowledge of the boxing world and its ups and downs is extensive. He wasn’t one to hype a fighter unless he was positively convinced 100 percent that it was a sure thing. In Pacquiao he saw greatness. But even Roach could not have foreseen just how far and how many champions he would vanquish.

    Back in those days the Mexican trio of Marco Antonio Barrera, Juan Manuel Marquez and Erik “El Terrible” Morales were terrorizing the smaller weight divisions. To think Pacquiao could take on any of them was lunacy.

    Roach kept telling all of us negative Nellies in the boxing media to just wait.

    Watching Pacquiao during those first days at the Wild Card it was easy to see that while others worked at 40 miles an hour, Pacman worked at 90 miles an hour. Everything he did was different. Everything. One thing that aided him early was he didn’t speak English. Others talked for him, but it was clear that his self-confidence was real.

    After watching him work for weeks it was obvious that the speedy southpaw with a frenetic style was going to ambush somebody. When the opponent for IBF super bantamweight titlist Lehlo Ledwaba fell out, somebody convinced the promoter to accept the former flyweight world champion Pacquiao as a fill in. Bad mistake.

    Oscar De La Hoya was the main event and his foe was WBC super welterweight titlist Javier Castillejo of Spain. I attended that press conference in Los Angeles where the Spanish fighter claimed to be more handsome than De La Hoya. That was a bizarre moment I never thought I would hear before a boxing match.

    Ledwaba had claimed the IBF title in 1999 and had performed in the USA that same year on the undercard of Shane Mosley vs Wilfredo Rivera at Pechanga Casino in Temecula, Calif. It was an outdoor event and Ledwaba wowed the crowd with his fighting ability. HBO, in particular, was very impressed.

    After watching Pacquiao work out at the Wild Card only those boxing reporters from Los Angeles were ready for the ambush about to take place. It was Little Bighorn at the MGM Grand and I was eager to watch.

    But here’s the thing. I was about to get married and my original wedding date had to be postponed because my parents could not make it. So, instead of June 9, my wedding ceremony was moved to June 23, 2001. The same date as Pacquiao’s debut.

    I had to cancel my Las Vegas reservation and arrange for a tuxedo fitting and catering instead. One good thing: the wedding was taking place in my own backyard.

    Pacman’s American debut

    While Manny Pacquiao and Freddie Roach were engaged in hand wraps and glove fittings, 300 miles west I was buttoning up my tuxedo and lacing up my brand new shoes.

    Almost everyone at our wedding was aware that I was a boxing writer. But no one was bold enough to ask about the fights taking place in Las Vegas. After the small intimate ceremony held outside in 99-degree temperatures, I sneaked inside the air-conditioned house to check on the fights. I didn’t want to miss Pacquiao.

    Someone must have squealed because soon others began knocking on the door. I let one person in and then even more came knocking. They saw I had the television set on and sat alongside me to watch. My brand-new wife came walking in with this look of disappointment. But she was understanding and quickly adjusted to the realization that I am what I am; a boxing writer.

    I have the best wife.

    As we listened to the HBO team talk about the upcoming fights I told the small crowd inside my house to ignore that voice talking about Lehlo Ledwaba. I prepared them to watch the emergence of a new champion, Manny Pacquiao. One of the guys in my house asked why I was so sure.

    “Just watch,” I replied.

    It didn’t take long for the HBO team and those watching around the world to see what I first saw inside the Wild Card gym. Pacquiao was a cherry bomb with gloves on and exploded on poor Ledwaba. Before the end of the sixth round the fight was over and Pacquiao was the new IBF world titlist.

    Later that same night De La Hoya would win his fight over Castillejo, Pacquiao would help change the course of boxing and I would resume the celebration of my marriage. All on one day.

    Pacquiao would bring so many riveting moments to the boxing world, but my favorite remains when he fought at the historic Olympic Auditorium in downtown Los Angeles. It was fitting that the great Pacquiao had at least one fight at that gladiators’ venue that shut down for good in 2005.

    That night, on July 26, 2003, as a few of us boxing journalists walked together through the parking lot we encountered Freddie Roach. He was in the corner for Manny Pacquiao’s L.A. debut. Pacman was fighting New York-based Mexican fighter Emmanuel Lucero in the main event. Also on the same card were Fernando Vargas, Sergio Mora, BJ Flores and Malik Scott.

    Roach eagerly chatted with me and photographers Paul Hernandez and Joe Miranda about his first visit to the Philippines to train Pacquiao.

    The veteran trainer described his adventure as an incredible surprise especially the adulation heaped on both he and Pacman everywhere they went in the Philippines. We spoke for a good 12 minutes or more on what he did and saw. I never forget the excitement in his voice over the experience.

    That night Pacquiao delivered a sizzling knockout of Lucero with an uppercut from hell. After the fight he insisted he wanted to fight the best including all three Mexican world champions. I thought it was a suicidal goal, but it led him to more success than anybody could imagine.

    This rather small Filipino was able to win titles in eight weight divisions. It boggles the mind.

    It also made me remember 15 years earlier when I worked for a small chain of local newspapers in Southern California. One of the guys in charge of printing was a Filipino whose name I forget. We often talked about boxing and his knowledge was extensive. He told me there were plenty of very good fighters in the Philippines but all they lacked was a very good trainer.

    Man, was he ever correct. I never forgot those words.

    Now Pacquiao has retired and his epic career speaks volumes. What a joy he brought to the prizefighting world. And what a fighter.

    Remembering Dan Goossen

    It was seven years ago that the boxing world lost Dan Goossen one of its best promoters. He was also one of the best human beings I ever met in the sport. Nobody is perfect but Dan was one of those guys that made the sport even better.

    From Michael Nunn to Rafael Ruelas to Andre Ward, it was Dan Goossen who had a hand in promoting their careers. His passing still leaves a big void in the sport. He was just a classy guy.

    If you ever meet one of the Goossens, you know what I mean. The entire family are all first-class human beings. I wish them the best always.

    Thrilla in Manilla

    Friday, October 1, marks the 46th anniversary of the third and last encounter between Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali in the boxing ring, otherwise known as the “Thrilla in Manila.” Perhaps the greatest heavyweight world title fight of all time.

    Over the years I crossed paths with both Ali and Frazier. I worked in the same Wilshire building on the Miracle Mile District in which Ali had his office. Every time he arrived hundreds of people would gather and he would sign autographs or pose for a photo with everyone.

    Frazier was different. Not everyone recognized “Smokin Joe” but those who did he would accommodate. I spoke to him on a personal basis a couple of times. I feel grateful that I was able to meet and talk to both Ali and Frazier on a casual basis. They were heroes to me. That last fight they had on October 1,1975 was one of the most brutal but beautiful examples of prizefighting. Anyone who saw that fight when it happened remembers.

    Red Boxing in Simi Valley

    A boxing card heads to Simi Valley in Southern California with Red Boxing Promotions having their first event in almost two years on Saturday, Oct. 2, at Simi Valley Town Center. Doors open at 6 p.m.

    Seven bouts are scheduled for the boxing card with one six-round fight planned. For more information go to

    Fights to Watch

    Sat. DAZN 11 a.m. Chris Eubank (30-2) vs Anatoli Muratov (24-2-1)

    Check out more boxing news on video at the Boxing Channel